Gregor Townsend has defended Scottish Rugby’s policy of scouring the world to find players with a Scottish connection, who can be recruited to bolster the national side and the country’s two pro teams – but he also recognised that more needs to be done to improve the country’s internal player development pathways.

“Whether it’s emphasis or investment or focus, we need to get those players based in Scotland coming through quicker and getting more opportunities to play at a higher level,” said the national team head coach.

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“Ireland are showing us the way and Italy are showing us the way as well. We’ve got to learn from what we’re doing now but also from what the best models are, and they’re quite close to us, across the Irish Sea and with how good Italy are performing at age-grade level.

“The two Wales centres [during the recent Six Nations] played under-20s against Scotland in the summer last year. So, that’s what we have to get better at, getting our players up to that level where they can almost step up to pro and international level, and we have to be better at giving them the opportunities and the windows for that to happen.

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“No Scotland Under-20s players from the past two or three years are playing at pro level or are in pro level squads. Now, is that because our squad sizes aren’t the right number for them to come through, or are we doing enough at the 15 to 18 age to help them to come through?

“If you can get your own players through quicker then that’s going to help you long term.”

Townsend recently phoned Australian centre Mosese Tuipulotu – brother of Scotland and Glasgow star Sione – to encourage the 21-year-old to sign for Glasgow Warriors next season, on a salary reported to be three times more than the £46,000 he is currently earning.

The Tuipulotus qualify to play for Scotland through a grandmother from Greenock, however the younger sibling is unproven at pro level, having missed almost all of the last two years through a serious knee injury and only making his Super Rugby debut for the Waratahs off the bench last weekend.

“Most of the players who are qualified for Scotland are playing in Scotland but there are also players with Scottish heritage, be it first generation or second generation, who are playing in England and overseas,” said Townsend. “If they’re at a high level and can add to the pro teams’ quality or the national team’s then of course we’re going to be interested in that.

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“The Sione example is a really good one. He is somebody who has come over here, made a massive commitment to move from Japan. He was brought up in Australia, with Tongan heritage but the Scottish link was something that was close to him, and he has been totally committed to improving both himself and Glasgow, and now Scotland.

“He’s really added to our team, and to Glasgow, and, yes, we’ll continue to look for players who are Scottish qualified but I would obviously like to see more Scottish players coming through and playing for pro teams at 18-19 years old. It’s been a while since that’s happened and we’ve got to put more focus on making that happen quicker.”

While the senior Scotland men’s team had a moderately encouraging 2023 Six Nations campaign, the reliance on players who were not developed by Scotland and qualify through heritage or residency is a concern. Only nine out of the match-day 23 for the final game of the campaign against Italy learned their rugby inside Scotland, which means the success of the side is reliant on there being no change in qualification laws and on Scottish Rugby’s scouting network continuing to conjure up individuals who have either slipped through the net or have not cut it elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the national Under-20s team had a harrowing Six Nations. They did manage to break a 15-match losing streak by getting the better of Wales in round two, but they suffered three heavy defeats on the bounce against France away (54-12), Ireland at home (7-82) and Italy at home (17-40).

READ MORE: Glasgow coach says Scotland 10 years behind Ireland in player development

The next task facing the age-grade side is the Junior World Trophy in Kenya at the end of July, which they must win to return to the top tier World Championship in 2024. Scotland were relegated into the Trophy pre-Covid in 2019 after losing all five games played in that year’s Championship.

Failure to make it back up to the top table would be a further grievous blow to Scotland’s development pathways as exposure to this annual tournament provides valuable growth opportunities to the world’s best young players, so the longer Scotland are out of it the wider the gap is likely to stretch.

Townsend’s younger son, Luke, played stand-off during that hammering by Ireland Under-20s a fortnight ago, while his older son, Christian, is a senior academy member having played two seasons at Under-20s level without tasting victory, so this is an issue he has personal as well as professional interest in.